Lieping Chen, MD, PhD

United Technologies Corporation Professor in Cancer Research and Professor of Immunobiology, of Dermatology and of Medicine (Medical Oncology); Co-Director, Cancer Immunology Program at Yale Cancer Center

Departments & Organizations

Immunobiology: Chen Lab | Human and Translational Immunology Program

Internal Medicine: Medical Oncology | Rheumatic Diseases Research Core | Rheumatology, Allergy, & Clinical Immunology: Rheumatic Diseases Research Core

Yale Cancer Center: Cancer Immunology | K12 Calabresi Immuno-Oncology Training Program (IOTP) | SPORE in Lung Cancer

Yale Combined Program in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS): Immunology

Office of Cooperative Research


Lieping Chen studies cell surface proteins which control lymphocyte functions. He is also interested in translating laboratory findings to treat human diseases including cancer. In 1992, Dr. Chen showed the first proof-of-concept study that the B7-CD28 family molecules could be the targets for cancer immunotherapy. This study inspires subsequent studies targeting the B7-CD28 family molecules for the treatment of human cancer.

In 1999, Dr. Chen, then at the Mayo Clinic, first to discover a molecule he called B7-H1, which is now also known as PD-L1. He subsequently showed that PD-L1 is expressed by several types of tumors and that its activity can cause the death of T cells, thus preventing them from eliminating cancer cells. Bringing these lines of inquiry full circle, he later showed that blocking this interaction between PD-1 and PD-L1 by monoclonal antibodies improved the immune system’s ability to eliminate tumors in a 2002 paper. Chen’s work provided an important foundation for the subsequent development of immunotherapies designed to block this activity, and thereby enable more effective immune responses against cancer.

Dr. Chen also initiated and help organized the first-in-man clinical trial of anti-PD-1 monoclonal antibody for treating human cancer in 2006, when he moved to the Johns Hopkins Medical Institute, and developed PD-L1 staining as a biomarker to predict treatment outcome.  His discoveries directly led to the development of anti-PD-1/PD-L1 antibody therapy against broad spectrum of human cancers. These discoveries have revolutionized cancer treatment. Today, there are five FDA-approved immunotherapies, for more than 10 major cancer types, that target the PD-1/PD-L1 pathway.

Other important breakthroughs made by Dr. Chen include the development of an agonist antibody against the 4-1BB co-stimulatory pathway, also known as CD137. Multiple 4-1BB-targeting antibodies have since been developed and are now being evaluated in clinical trials for a variety of cancer types. Dr. Chen’s laboratory also discovered several molecular pathways with T cell costimulatory and coinhibitory functions and/or their applications in human disease treatment. These pathways include B7-H2 (ICOSL), B7-H3, B7-H4, B7-H5/CD28H, PD-1H (VISTA), LIGHT/HVEM, B7-H2/CD28/CTLA-4 (human), SALM5/HVEM. Many of these findings are now being developed clinically for the treatment of human diseases.

Education & Training

PhD Drexel University, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine (1989)
MS Beijing Union Medical College, Beijing, China, Immunology (1986)
MD Fujian Medical College (1982)
Postdoctoral fellow University of Washington
Fellow Beijing Union Medical College
Intern and Resident Fujian Union Hospital

Honors & Recognition

  • Elected AcademicianAcademia Sinica (2018)

  • Kurt Hellman AwardMetastasis Research Society (2018)

  • Brilliant Achievement AwardChinese Biopharmaceutical Association (2018)

  • Luminary AwardWorld Affairs Council of Connecticut (2018)

  • CST Innovation and Translational Research AwardCell Signaling Technology Inc (2018)

  • Giants of Cancer CareOncLive (2018)

  • ACTS Team Science AwardAssociation for Clinical and Translational Science (2018)

  • Presidential AwardSociety of Chinese Bioscientists in America (2017)

  • Warren Alpert Foundation PrizeWarren Alpert Foundation/Harvard Medical School (2017)

  • Biomedical Sciences AwardBoao Forum Asia in Biomedical Sciences (2017)

  • Shizhang Bei International AwardThe Biophysical Society of China (2017)

  • CAST-USA Science and Innovation AwardChinese Association for Science and Technology-USA (2016)

  • AAI-Steinman AwardAmerican Association of Immunologists (2016)

  • Lifetime Achievement AwardCAHON (2015)

  • William B. Coley AwardCancer Research Institute (2014)

  • Inaugural United Technologies Corporation Endowed Chair ProfessorYale University (2013)

  • Honorary M.A. DegreeYale University (2012)

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